Friday, February 15, 2013

Ten Inexpensive Kitchen Essentials

Sure, you can equip your kitchen with all sorts of expensive gadgets: Kitchenaid mixers, a super-powered Vitamix blender, an immersion circulator, Le Creuset enamel pots. But the things I reach for every day are the ones that cost hardly anything at all, and yet they're the things that I absolutely can't live without. So, without further ado, here are my ten essential (and inexpensive) kitchen tools:

  1. A portable and reliable timer. I use a red digital one that I got in Chinatown for about $4. I put something in the oven, set the timer, and then put it in my pocket and walk away. I'm not tied down to the kitchen, and I know that whatever I'm cooking will be in there for the right amount of time.  And I love the colour!

  2. A meat thermometer. I might not eat meat, but I use my probe thermometer all the time, mostly for bread. The thump test is great, but knowing that my loaf needs to come out as soon as it hits 190 in the centre is even better. And if you do eat meat, you never have to worry about an underdone chicken or an overdone steak again.

  3. A silicone spatula (or five). I can't tell you how many spatulas I destroyed (and how many pots of tomato sauce I ruined) before I realized that what I really needed was a heat-resistant silicone spatula. They don't melt, they don't discolour (hello, curry!), and they're flexible enough to scrape every last bit of brownie batter out of the bowl. 

  4. A mechanical ice cream scoop (or two). I love seeing a batch of cookies, pancakes, or muffins where each and every one is the same size, and an ice cream scoop is the best way to make sure that they are. I have a standard-size that I use for pancakes and muffins, and a smaller one for cookies. The type with the metal sweeps and spring-loaded handles make sure that all of the batter ends up where you want it. 

  5. A nesting set of glass mixing bowls. They work for everything (even as a charlotte or pudding mold), they're pretty enough to serve in, and they don't take up much space in the cupboard. 

  6. A metal bench scraper. I use it for smoothing the icing on the sides of cakes, for scraping spills of the counter, for dividing dough, for cutting pasta, for unsticking cookies from the counter after they've been cut, and a hundred other uses I can't think of right now. It's one of the most useful things in my drawer. 

  7. Mason jars. Cupboards that shower down half-filled bags of grains and baking supplies when I open the door are my own personal idea of hell. So as soon as I bring pantry staples home (usually in flimsy plastic bags from the bulk store), I transfer them to a labelled Mason jar. They tuck neatly away in the cupboard, they look pretty, they keep everything sealed and fresh (believe me, you don't want to have to deal with a weevil infestation), and they come in a variety of useful sizes. I also use them for food storage and to shake up my vinaigrettes.

  8. A Microplane rasp. We're getting a little pricier here (they run for about $20), but I use my Microplane every day--for zesting citrus fruits, for shaving cheese over a bowl of pasta or polenta, for grating garlic into salad dressing or guacamole, or showering nutmeg over spinach, and for catching citrus seeds when juicing. There are some things you can really only do with a Microplane. 

  9. An accurate set of measuring spoons. Sure, I prefer to bake by weight, but for recipes that work by volume, I need to know that my muffins aren't going to fall flat because my 1-teaspoon measure really only holds 3/4. 

  10. An oil mister. I use a Misto pump mister, which I keep filled with a mild olive oil. I use it to spray pans when I want to saute without using much oil, to mist salads when all I want is a spritz of oil and a squeeze of lemon, to make plastic wrap non-stick when I'm covering sticky bread dough, and to slick the insides of mixing bowls when I'm proofing the same dough. 
So tell me: what are your kitchen essentials? 


  1. #s 3, 7, 8 are essential staples in my kitchen! Other (perhaps not-so-inexpensive) favourites are my immersion blender, serrated knife, pepper mill, tongs,and silpat baking mat.

    1. I'm also in love with my Silpats! The other thing that really should be on this list is a digital scale--I only started baking by weight most of the time (rather than only occasionally) pretty recently, but it's So.Much.Better.

  2. Great essential list! I love finding new Canadian blogs :P

    1. Thanks, Natalie! Glad you're enjoying it!

  3. I could not function in the kitchen without parchment paper. Using it prevents that awful moment when you realize that the bottom of a loaf of bread (or a tray of cookies) is well and truly stuck. (I suppose a silicone baking mat would perform the same function with less waste, but I don't have one of those).

    Also, using a microplane has resulted in my grating a lot less of my knuckles along with the citrus zest.

    1. I'm totally with you on the parchment paper, especially because silicone baking mats only work on cookie sheets.

      The Microplane is a total finger lifesaver. My mandoline, not so much. But I feel like every cook has a terrible mandoline injury story...

    2. I've never injured myself with a mandolin, but I did manage to break one of the plastic pieces on mine the second time I used it. It's so unstable now that I refuse to use it for fear of losing a finger...